Colonel Oleg Vladmirovich Penkovsky Essay, Research Paper
Colonel Oleg Vladmirovich Penkovsky
Colonel Oleg Vladmirovich Penkovsky is a name that doesn’t ring a bell for most people. However, for many in the intelligence community this name is as about household as you can get. He is a legend in his own right. Those who lived during and through the Cuban missile crisis actually benefited from this man’s activities. Colonel Penkovsky was a joint spy for the United States and England. He is often thought of as the highest ranking, most damaging person to spy on the Soviet Union. While most everybody is thankful for the information he provided there are questions to be brought to light. For example, why did such a devoted officer turn on his own country and spy for the west? What were the motives to keep him doing such a thing? To try to answer these various and complex inquiries one must start at the beginning.
Oleg Penkovsky was born in a small town on the 23rd of April in 1919. By 1939 he had graduated from a Soviet military school and had been part of a group called Komosomol, meaning “young communists.” He also went to war serving as a unit commander of an artillery unit. Penkovsky was decorated four times during his 1939-1940 tour of duty. After that tour he was injured and spent most of his time doing various assignments that took him between Moscow and the Ukrainian front for the rest of the Second World War. When the war was over, Penkovsky attended two military academies. One of the academies was the Frunze Military Academy and the other was the Military Diplomatic Academy. By 1950 he had married a woman who was the daughter of a fairly important general in the Soviet army. At this time he was also promoted to the rank of Colonel and was a member of the Soviet military intelligence agency, also known as the GRU. He was given various foreign assignments, Ankara, Turkey being the last location of these assignments (Richelson 274).
While in Turkey Penkovsky was noticed by the British intelligence agency known as Military Intelligence department 6 (MI6), more precisely a man named Greville Maynard Wynne. Wynne felt that they could possibly use Penkovsky since he showed dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union’s communist system of government (Volkman, Warriors 98). When Penkovsky returned to Moscow in 1956 his military career came to a screeching halt. By 1960 he had had enough and decided to take matters into his own hands (Richelson 275).
On August 12, 1960, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky approached two Americans on a bridge. The two Americans were Elden Ray Cox and Henry Lee Cobb (Shecter, Deriabin 5). The two men were unsure about Penkovsky’s motives since they had been warned about how the KGB (Soviet intelligence agency) tried to entrap people for spying (Volkman, Spies 23). Cox decided to go to the U.S. embassy where the diplomat on duty looked at the information Penkovsky had handed over. There was a letter written by Penkovsky indicating his desire to provide the U.S. with vital information. The second item was a detailed description of how the CIA could contact him (Volkman, Spies 23). The information was dismissed as purely provocation from the KGB. This was believed to be the case on more than one occasion. He had tried to get the Canadian embassy as well as the U.S. embassy to listen to him. They were suspicious because of his impeccable record and he was too obvious about offering his services (Pincher, Too Secret 264). He did not fit the profile of a traitor. Eventually, England took notice of Colonel Penkovsky and felt that he was genuine. The CIA decided to join England’s secret service in a joint venture and see if Penkovsky was genuine.
It was the before mentioned Greville Maynard Wynne who finally contacted Penkovsky. Greville Wynne was a businessman who was trying to make a business arrangement with the Soviet Union. He represented several companies involved in the steel and electrical machine making industry. Wynne was also a secret agent of the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service for England). More accurately he worked in the MI6 (Richelson 275). Secretly, Wynne had been conducting one of the most successful covert operations against the Soviet Union (Volkman, Warriors 99). Wynne set up a delegation from the Soviet Union to come to London to learn more about some of the companies he represented. Penkovsky was in this delegation that was bound for London (Richelson 276). Once in England, the delegation was kept busy by a rigorous schedule to tour several plants. While this was transpiring, Colonel Penkovsky was unloading vast amounts of information including 78 pages of confidential material (Richelson 275). Examples of the information include missile technology, construction areas, launch sites, and even information on GRU operatives stationed around the world (Volkman, Warriors 102).
Initially the CIA and the SIS were both awestruck and suspicious of the information that they received. There were some who felt that Penkovsky knew too much and acquired information to effortlessly to be legitimate (Knightly 320). Eventually, “Many of the doubts – but not all – about his bona fides faded in the light of one intelligence maxim.” That maxim or fact was that he had to be a genuine based on the information he was providing. It was inconceivable that the Soviet’s would willingly give up this kind of delicate information just to get a plant in place. Eventually most everyone accepted Penkovsky as genuine because of this very fact (Knightly 320).
For approximately three years Colonel Penkovsky provided some of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive military secrets using a Minox camera (Costello 581). The camera used microfilm, which he would give to the west to decipher. At the debriefings Penkovsky provided the United States and England with over 140 hours of taped debriefing, roughly 1200 pages of transcripts from the debriefings, and at least 11 roles of microfilm. This operation produced approximately 10,000 pages of intelligence information (Richelson 278). Later on, the CIA produced the Penkovsky’s “memoirs” from these debriefing tapes (Pincher, Traitors 221).
Back in Moscow he continued gathering information and passing it on to a woman named Janet Chisolm by dead drops and meetings. She was the wife of a man named Raury Chisolm. Raury Chisolm worked at the English embassy as a diplomat and secretly as an agent of the MI6. Raury Chisolm, however was known to be an agent of the SIS by the KGB. They acquired this information from one of their own operatives by the name of George Blake who worked in the MI6 and exposed many of England’s agents (Volkman, Spies 29). With this information in hand the KGB would routinely monitor the Chisolm family. It was in this way that it is believed that the KGB became suspicious of Colonel Penkovsky (Volkman, Spies 29). Penkovsky on occasion would meet Janet Chisolm in a park. Penkovsky would bring a box of candies that had microfilm in the box. He would give Mrs. Chisolm’s children a couple of pieces of candy and then they would go off and play. At this time he would give her the film (Volkman, Warriors 210). Many feel that she must have been under surveillance and the two were seen together. In addition to this Colonel Penkovsky was also seen with Raury Chisolm (Lloyd 116).
Once the KGB made the connection they moved quickly. On October 22,1962 Penkovsky was arrested for treason (Knightly 315). In November of that same year
Greville Wynne was also arrested in Budapest (Pincher, Too Secret 265). Wynne was in the process of trying to get Penkovsky out of the Soviet Union. His plan was to use a van with secret compartments and hide the Colonel in it. This plan did not come to fruition because the KGB found Wynne and the van. The KGB stripped the van and arrested Wynne (Pincher, Traitors 206). There were several factors that may have lead to the arrest of Colonel Penkovsky. Many speculate that it was his out right disregard for being discreet. For example, on occasion he passed information at a diplomatic party where the KGB was usually surveilling. He also demanded that he receive a large amount of money so that he could spend it in London even after the MI6 warned him that the KGB would wonder about where he got the money to buy such expensive things (Pincher, Traitors 258). Some analysts believe that an inside agent working in the MI5 blew Penkovsky’s cover. There is some evidence to support this idea. When the MI5 was supporting the MI6 when debriefing Penkovsky, a man by the name of Roger Hollis asked for Penkovsky’s real name. Roger Hollis was the head of the MI5 and is now believed to have been a spy against England (Pincher, Too Secret 265). In any case, Colonel Penkovsky had been captured and arrested. Penkovsky and Wynne both stood trial together before the Soviet Supreme Court. Both men were convicted of spying. Wynne’s was sentenced to eight years in prison while Colonel Penkovsky was to be executed by the firing squad (Knightly 315). While most believe that Penkovsky was executed by the firing squad still others believe that he was executed by being slowly fed into a furnace. This method for execution is supposed to be reserved for the most heinous of traitors. Some even suggest that his closest friends were made to watch (Volkman, Spies 30). Wynne served about one year in prison before he was exchanged for a man by the name of Conon Molody who was arrested as Gordon Lonsdale (Knightly 315).
There were two things that made the intelligence that Penkovsky provided to the United States and England so crucial. The first is the revelations that the information gave the United States. These revelations included how the United States viewed the Soviet Union as a threat. For years the U.S. believed that the Soviets were largely ahead of them in numbers of ICBM’s. ICBM stands for intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. called this missile imbalance the missile gap. The United States also felt that it was behind in missile technology. According to the intelligence received these two beliefs could not be further from the truth. The facts were that the Soviet Union was in no way capable to wage a nuclear war. Instead of being largely ahead of the United States, the Soviets were extremely behind. The Soviet leader Krushchev claimed that their missiles were so accurate that they could hit a fly in space (Volkman, Spies 25). In reality the Soviet missile program was having severe problems with their guidance systems (Volkman, Warriors 102). With this knowledge in hand the United States could now deal more effectively in their foreign policy with the Soviets. The second crucial part of Penkovsky’s information will illustrate how the U.S. had this newfound ability.
The second important factor is the timing in which the information was provided.
Penkovsky gave a myriad of intelligence concerning much of the Soviets rocket and missile program. Examples of this intelligence include facts such as missile types, ranges, megatonnage, and the way that the Soviets built missile sights (Knightly 320).
Penkovsky even told them that Krushchev was bluffing and that the Soviets did not want nuclear war (Andrew 268). The U.S. received this information before the Cuban missile crisis began. The United States knew that the Soviets did not have the ability or the desire to fight a nuclear war. The U.S. also gained large amounts of information about the Soviets missile technology, and the Soviets did not the U.S. had attained from Penkovsky. Due to the timing of the information Penkovsky provided gave the United States the advantage. With this information in hand the United States under the leadership of President Kennedy forced Krushchev and the Soviet Union to withdraw their missiles from Cuba. Never before had the world come so close to nuclear war. Thanks to Colonel Oleg Penkovsky the world got to walk away and sigh with relief.
There is much speculation about the motives that led Colonel Penkovsky to live the life he chose. One such theory is that Penkovsky was a KGB plant to serve the Soviets by providing the west with disinformation. By doing so would confuse both the United States and England. The disinformation would provide a sense of false trust in each countries own intelligence agencies. If the theory is correct, it can be used to explain a couple of issues. One issue is the fact that when Kennedy demanded that the Soviets pull out of Cuba, Kennedy also agreed not to invade Cuba. In the long run this agreement turns out to be more advantageous to the Soviets as well as Cuba. Even today Cuba is strategically important. Since Cuba is a communist nation they provided the Soviets a thorn in the side of the United States. Secondly, the disinformation may have possibly propagated the feeling that the United States had superiority in ICBM technology and numbers. This feeling may have proved false when the United States admitted to being behind in both of these two areas. These facts would seem to support this theory (Pincher 266). However these facts can possibly have other explanations.
Kennedy may have agreed to not attacking Cuba to make it easier for Krushchev to back down with out looking weak. This would explain why Kennedy agreed to this condition.
As for the United States being behind the Soviets in ICBM development, that could be explained as only a recent development. While the United States agreed to arms reductions the Soviets could have continued building up and surpassed the United States in numbers and technology.
A second theory is that the Soviets provided Penkovsky in order to draw out an English spy with which the Soviets could bargain for the freedom of a well-known Russian spy. That spy was Gordon Lonsdale also known as Conon Molody. Lonsdale was a valuable agent with which the Soviets were pleased. They were willing to exchange a less important spy (Wynne) for Lonsdale. Greville Wynne had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union and was indeed traded in return for Gordon Lonsdale. This theory seems unlikely, since it would appear that the Soviets went through a lot of effort to convince the United States and England just to get an agent to trade. The Soviets would not give up that much valuable information just for the sake of one man (Knightly 315).
Further speculation brings another idea to light. The idea that Penkovsky was a mere pawn in a game of high stakes diplomacy where the loser was Penkovsky. There may have been high-ranking Soviet officials that did not agree with Krushchev and all his boasting. They may have felt that he was leading them towards nuclear war with the United States. These same individuals could have made it easier for Penkovsky to get access to this information and allowed it to make it to the west where it could be used effectively. It would be a way for some in the Soviet government to pass the message to the United States that they did not want nuclear war and at the same time illustrate to not be united behind their leader, Nikita Krushchev (Knightly 325). Facts supporting this theory include the time at which Penkovsky was arrested, at the climax of the Cuban missile crisis. This could have been to give final proof that Penkovsky was real. Another supporting piece of information is the kind of information was both timely and the exact kind needed. A third point of evidence is in 1971 Richard Helms who was the director of the CIA at the time made a statement indicating that there were several persons in the Soviet government aided the Americans during the Cuban missile crisis (Knightly 326, 327). In this instance it purports that the information was indeed genuine and in a different sense, Penkovsky was real.
The facts are simply this. Penkovsky volunteered himself as an MI6 mole with U.S. cooperation (Volkman, Warriors 209). He provided the west with “vital” information. Penkovsky fell under KGB suspicion and was soon after caught, arrested, tried, and convicted (Lloyd 106). He was then subsequently sentenced to die for treason against the Soviet Union. The theories presented are merely circumstantial, but the prevailing theory is that Penkovsky was most likely being used by a faction in the Soviet government to get a message to the west to prevent a nuclear war (Knightly 326). Even in light of all these facts, it does not in the least detract from the fact that Colonel Oleg Penkovsky was a truly brave man. Even if unwittingly used as some pawn, it was still Penkovsky, who took the risk to inform the United States as well as England of the vital information he had. As a mole behind the Iron Curtain he did this for a cause he deemed just and right. The outcome of this brave man’s decision quite possibly saved millions upon millions of lives. He paid the ultimate price for this, his life. Colonel Oleg Vladmirovich Penkovsky was a true hero.